If you need a bit of a push to turn your New Year intentions into action, all it takes is a fresh perspective on willpower…

January has arrived and if you’ve decided it’s going to be the springboard for a few changes in life, there’s important news. You know that thing called willpower that’s needed so you can resist temptation or do something you might not feel like doing? Turns out you can develop buckets of it just by tweaking how you think. Welcome to the year of the ‘I Can Do It’ attitude – and all the success it will bring.

A fresh perspective on willpower

Step One: Find the right words

The language we use when we’re making change is extremely important in helping us achieve it. People who said they ‘didn’t want’ to do something tempting like eat a cake were eight times more likely to succeed in a goal than those who said they ‘couldn’t do’ that same something. Using the words ‘don’t want’ told their brains this was a choice they wanted to make, and the brain helps reinforce ideas it thinks will make you happy. What that meant was that instead of keeping them fixated on the cake they couldn’t have, it stopped thinking about the cake they ‘didn’t want’ taking willpower out of the equation.

How to do it

There’s no right words for everyone – you can choose the ones that work for you. It’s important to feel a strong emotional connection to the words you use; it ought to feel as if they motivate you as you say them. The best words should make you feel as if you’re the driver in your own life, not a passenger. As we said, there’s no right or wrong here – but words you might consider eliminating include ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘need’, ‘might’, ‘willpower’, ‘if’ and ‘luck’, which all produce an element of doubt. Words to consider use instead include ‘want’, ‘will’, ‘determined’, ‘committed’, ‘resolved’ and ‘when’, which convey a sense of power.

A fresh perspective on willpower

Step Two: Embrace the concept of ‘not yet’

When most of us set a goal, there are two possible outcomes: you succeed or you fail. However, new research on change at Stanford University in the US has generated the inspiring idea of a third option: ‘you’re just not there yet.’

It came about as part of a study into the mindset of achievers. Experts discovered that people who saw every step taken toward a goal as a positive – even steps that fail – were more likely to keep plugging away and eventually succeed. Embracing the idea that you never fail at a task, you just haven’t reached success yet, is one way of creating this way of thinking.

And it’s a very successful one. When schools adopted this idea by not using ‘failed’ grades and instead using ‘not yet’, pass marks on the pupils’ next tests increased exponentially. They didn’t see failing as the end – they just weren’t at the point where they could pass yet. ‘

How to do it

As you progress on your journey, take time to reflect on, and even jot down, what’s working – and just as importantly look at what’s not. Remember, this isn’t failure, it’s just a sign you’ve not got things right yet. Reassess your plan and you will get there.

Step Three: See your goal as exciting and a challenge

The way we think about willpower and motivation actually differs between cultures. In India, for example, completing a task that uses self-control and discipline is seen as rewarding and energising, rather than draining and depleting. As such, when researchers at the National University of Singapore looked at how long people spent on a task, those with this ‘effort is energising’ mentality were more likely to see things through.

How to Do It

Again, changing your language can help create this excitement – can you see how using the phrase ‘when I start my business’ might create more energy and excitement than ‘if I start my business’? As well as that, find the reason behind why you want to achieve your goal and focus on it every single day – the why is so crucial as it provides the motivation to keep going. It helps you establish why your goal is something you really want to achieve and that increases the chances that you will find the resolve and resources you need to achieve it. Set yourself clear, manageable steps and outcomes to get yourself energised and constantly moving forward.

So, there you have it, the four steps you need to take to create your new ‘can do’ attitude. But before you rush off to get started, we just want to point out you’re already closer to your goal than you’ve ever been. Remember we said that arming people with the facts about willpower made them immediately more likely to develop that ‘can do’ attitude? Well, all the researchers had to do to achieve this amazing result was to get people to read a short article explaining how willpower was completely under their control – just like this one! So, now you don’t just think you can…you know you can!

Read more in the January issue of Top Santè!